Political satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert drew tens of thousands this Saturday to their semi-serious event, "The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." Staged on the National Mall with the Capitol as a backdrop, the rally opened with performances by Cat Stevens, Ozzy Osbourne, the Roots and John Legend and included an appearance by former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who reminded Colbert that not all Muslims are terrorists.
But the true stars of the rally were the attendees — an inspiring mix of racially and ethnically diverse individuals who chose an array of issues to address, the most notable being gay marriage, immigration and the legalization of marijuana. In a unique display of politics, humor, activism and celebration, rallygoers carried signs that spoke to their frustrations with Democrats, Republicans — and Fox News.
But the messages of the Tea Party seemed to bear the brunt of the attendees' disapproval, as demonstrated by a sign that traveled through the crowd, reading, "What exactly are they putting in that tea?" Other attendees seemed to play along, holding signs that fed into the rally's satirical name. One man wore a sign that read, "White privileged male for more privilege." Other signs seen on TV included one that read, "Does this sign make my butt look big?" and "Big signs are for bullies."
Colbert and Stewart decided to stage their rally just weeks after right-wing talk show host Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally on Aug. 28, which urged his fans to turn back to God and restore the values that had made America great.
Tori Dickens, a 33-year-old mother of three who works in finance, noted that her motivations for attending the event came out of a desire to hear positive messages around important issues. "There's just this feeling of peace here; the crowd is so diverse, and this is a very lighthearted way to deal with complex issues."
Despite the rally's ironic tone, what was billed as political entertainment turned serious when Stewart addressed the crowd at the rally’s end. What Americans were experiencing were "hard times, not end times," Stewart said. Criticizing the mainstream media for ignoring "reasonable" Americans in favor of pundits who often took extremist views, Stewart blamed big media's 24-hour news cycle for fearmongering and for painting a one-dimensional image of Americans.
Akoto Ofori-Atta is on the staff of The Root.